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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Peter Brötzmann / Fred Van Hove / Han Bennink: Jazz in der Kammer Nr. 71 (Trost, 2022)

By Martin Schray

In 1971, the Kammerspiele of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin-Mitte were located in what was then East Berlin, not far from the Berliner Ensemble, Bertolt Brecht’s theater, and only a few minutes away from the Friedrichstraße border crossing, the checkpoint for incoming visitors from the West but the final stop for GDR citizens, which is why the place was also called the palace of tears. The overall atmosphere in the city at that time can be described as heated, the political mood between the two German states was tense. However, those were also musically raucous times. In 1968, Wuppertal saxophonist and clarinetist Peter Brötzmann formed a trio with Antwerp pianist Fred Van Hove and Dutch percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Han Bennink, marking the transition from the power phase of European improvised jazz of the larger formations (e.g. his Machine Gun octet) to more sophisticated but still energetic playing in smaller lineups. The trio’s concert in East Berlin was Brötzmann’s first “official“ concert in the GDR (there had been a few unofficial encounters before) and the audience vibrated with excitement and anticipation. Now, on the basis of this sound document, one can listen to how the three musicians made the air burn.

Jazz in der Kammer No. 71 is a contemporary document of this second initial spark in European free jazz. Conventional “jazz rules“ were still broken, but especially sound was redefined in the process. Brötzmann, Van Hove and Bennink moved away from the boisterous outcries of early European free jazz and discovered the quiet, delicate sides of their instruments. They gave free rein to their ideas, tamed only by few agreements: spontaneous music, linked with humorous interludes and excessive atonality. The variety and density, structure, fine dynamics and musical microcosms of this music are still surprising - even after more than 50 years. A rich, musical world unfolds that has not taken on any patina.

For Jazz in the Chamber no. 71 offers everything that one has come to love on the nine albums released so far by this trio (if you count the four with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff as well): The clash of different creative means, Peter Brötzmann’s expressive spectrum from primal screams to the most delicate, softest breaths, as well as his drones on the baritone saxophone reminiscent of foghorns; Han Bennink’s instrumental variety through the use of his home made junk (exotic drums and rattles and unconventional instruments); but especially Fred Van Howe’s energetic, ultra-fast trills, his oddballness, the folk songs he likes to intersperse, and his Taylor-like cascades, which, when combined with Bennink’s attacks on cymbals and snare, make one think of barrages. Brötzmann himself is rather restrained by his standards, which brings Van Hove more to the fore compared to other recordings, since in the past he often threatened to be drowned in the saxophonist’s and Bennink’s storm of steel. As a result, the basically highly condensed music gains more space, humor loosens the tension, and unusual techniques and stylistic elements are integrated into the musical events in an almost collage-like manner.

These live recordings are already one of the finest reissues in 2022 jazz (along with Albert Ayler’s Revelations - The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recording and Charles Mingus’s The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's). This band’s music is so radically democratic, technically sophisticated and musically pleasurable that after listening to the album you want to start over again and again. The striving for openness, contrast and structural clarity is also evident in the fact that there is plenty of room for solos and duets - also to Van Hove’s advantage. The musicians, for all their lack of agreement, have such a sense of cohesion, such a frenzy of quotation, that it seems the music is being put through the meat grinder of their imagination. The repertoire of sounds and techniques, the density and pace of development of the events and the wit of this music have no equal to this day.

Jazz in der Kammer Nr. 71 is available on double vinyl, CD and as a download.

You can listen to “Schwarzspecht“ and order the album here: